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Be’er Sheva – The Remnants Of The Ottoman City *

Turkish Railway Station in Be'er Sheva, Israel Photo: Mboesch

Ottoman Beersheba – Bir Seb’a – بئر السبع‎

The “Old City ” is the nickname of the Ottoman Beersheba, the only city planned and established at the start of the 20th century by the Ottoman Turks during their rule in what is now Israel. The city was built to serve as an administrative center by the Ottoman administration for the benefit of the Bedouin at the outset of the 20th century and was given the name of Bir al-Sabi (Well of the Seven). Until World War I, it was an overwhelmingly Muslim township, with some 1,000 residents. The part of the city where there are remains of many buildings from the period of the Turks, is located near Allenby Park, one of the first public parks were established in the State of Israel.

Be’er Sheva, in the northern Negev, is located at the intersection of routes leading to the Dead Sea and Eilat. It is a new city built on an ancient site, dating back to the age of the Patriarchs some 3,500 years ago.

Be’er Sheva, in the northern Negev, is located at the intersection of routes leading to the Dead Sea and Eilat. It is a new city built on an ancient site, dating back to the age of the Patriarchs some 3,500 years ago. 

The British incorporation of Sinai into Egypt led to a need for the Ottomans to consolidate their hold on southern Palestine. There was also a desire to encourage the Bedouin to become sedentary, with a predicted increase of tranquility and tax revenue. The first governor (kaymakam), Isma’il Kamal Bey, lived in a tent lent by the local sheikh until the government house (Saraya – the home of the Ottoman ruler) was built.

Beersheba in 1901 Public Domain

A visitor to Beersheba in May 1900 found only a ruin, a two-storey stone khan, and several tents. By the start of 1901 there was a barracks with a small garrison and other buildings.

View of Beersheba from the south in 1902 Public Domain

By 1907 there was a large village and military post, with a residence for the kaymakam (district governor) and a large mosque.

Beersheba, 1917 – photo from the minaret Public Domain

A plan for the town in the form of a grid was developed by a Swiss and a German architect. The grid pattern can be seen today in Beersheba’s Old City. Most of the residents at the time were Arabs from Hebron and the Gaza area, although Jews also began settling in the city. Many Bedouin abandoned their nomadic lives and built homes in Beersheba.

The Governor’s House

Visit interesting remnants of this period including the Governor’s House which was the home and office of the first governor of the city, built in 1906 and today home to the Negev Museum of Art. Housed in the elegant Ottoman governor’s mansion, the art museum hosts temporary exhibitions that change three times a year.

Negev Museum of Art Photo: Igor Svobodin

Carasso Science Park – School for Bedouin Sheikhs’ Children

The biggest science park in all of Israel, it has 13 showrooms of innovative and exciting exhibits.  Soon after the School for the Children of Bedouin Sheikhs was established, World War I broke out and the building was converted into a hospital.  During British rule, the structure ​was used again as a school and during the early years of the new State, it served as a Soldier’s House.  The school building now houses the Carasso Science Park.Bedouin

School for Bedouin children in Be’er Sheva Photo: GeorgeARNON

The First Mosque in Be’er Sheva’s Old City

The Old City also houses the The Great Mosque, the city’s first mosque also built in 1906. The Great Mosque was the chapel until 1948. In 1953 it began to be used as a museum of the history of the city. The building was recently closed for fear of collapse. Near the Governor’s House, stands an elegantly proportioned Ottoman mosque , its arches inspired in part by the architecture of Germany (the Turks’ allies at the time), puts on year-long exhibitions focussing on Islamic cultures.

Beersheba mosque. 1948 Public Domain
One of the mosques of Beersheba Photo: Daniel Baránek

Turkish Railway Station

The Turkish railway station built during the First World War, and many more buildings and streets which set the scene of life in the city and many other cities under Ottoman Rule. Built in 1915, the train station compound now houses a fascinating photo exhibit on Ottoman- and Mandate-era Be’er Sheva, including the town’s capture by Anzac cavalry during WWI. You can also see a steam engine of the type that operated on the Be’er Sheva line until 1958 and visit an interactive mini-museum, a luxurious lounge car from 1922 and a Turkish WWI memorial built in 2002.

Beersheba Turkish Railway Station Photo: ConstantinetheGreat~enwiki 
A Turkish railway bridge over nahal Patish, built during the first world war. This was part of the rail line from Wadi Srar to Be’er Sheva. Photo: Amirber
Turkish Railway Station in Be’er Sheva, Israel 1917 This work is from the Matson (G. Eric and Edith) Photograph collection at the Library of Congress. According to the library, there are no known copyright restrictions on the use of this work.

Turkish Soldiers Memorial in Be’er Sheva

The complex of the Turkish railway station in Be’er Sheva Photo: Shlomo.abitbul
Ataturk memorial next to the Turkish Soldiers Monument in Be’er Sheva Photo: גבי בן שמואל
90th anniversary of the WW1 Battle of Beersheba: Ceremony at memorial for the fallen Ottoman soldiers Photo: eman
Turkish Soldiers memorial in Be’er Sheva Photo: ד”ר אבישי טייכר

The Bedouin Market

The Bedouin market is a famous attraction in Beer Sheva, a weekly occassion taking place on Thursdays since 1905 in which Bedouins from the neighboring villages come and sell various authentic Bedouin wares such as copper products, glassware, jewelry, weaved crafts such as rugs, and more, as well as modern stalls selling clothing, footwear, and food, as you would find in any other market. The Bedouin market is relatively unique, a vibrant and colorful marketplace which is interesting to visit if you are in the city.

Be’er Avraham

According to the Bible, Be’er Sheva is where God appeared to Abraham (Genesis 26:23–25) and where Abraham made his covenant with Avimelech (Genesis 21:25–34) – that’s why this visitors centre focuses on the life and times of the patriarch of the three Abrahamic religions.

There is no evidence that Abraham ever visited the courtyard’s well, restored in the Ottoman era, but he is very present in the 45- to 60-minute tour, which includes a 15-minute audiovisual presentation (available in Hebrew and English, with subtitles in seven languages). Situated at the southeastern edge of the old city.

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